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Venturi Recalls Open Win at Congressional
The biggest win of Ken Venturi's sparkling career came 47 years ago in the U.S. Open at Congressional, the site of this week's Open. Playing in a cauldron of heat and humidity, the California native somehow survived the world's best players and 36 holes on the final day to win the only major of his career. (After the 1964 U.S. Open the USGA put an end to the 36-hole Saturday and held the final two rounds Saturday and Sunday.)
Now 80 years old, Venturi was 33 when he took on a golf course that was baked by 100-degree temperatures and made oppressive by high humidity. The players had to navigate the Blue course at Congressional, which sits in a valley and affords few cooling breezes.
Spectators were passing out left and right from the heat. Venturi began shaking after playing only 17 holes in the morning, and a doctor at that time recommended Venturi should withdraw. But Venturi, who lost eight pounds during the final two rounds, pressed on, seemingly buoyed by salt tablets which were later determined to have potentially fatal consequences.
Remarkably, after opening with a 72 and 70 in the first two days on the par-70 course, Venturi turned in rounds of 66 and 70 on that fateful Saturday, finishing at 2-under 278 and becoming just the second player in the U.S. Open to break 280. "Ben Hogan was first. I was second," Venturi said Monday.
After winning two more times that year following Congressional, Venturi received Sports Illustrated magazine's "Sportsman of the Year" award, becoming only the second golfer - Arnold Palmer was the first in 1960 - and one of only seven times (Tiger Woods won it twice) a golfer received the prestigious honor.
Venturi, who moved to the CBS Sports' broadcasting booth in 1967 with 14 career wins after being diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, sat down with the media at Congressional on Monday and conducted a wide-ranging interview. Though he's endured various health issues - including painful arthritis in his hands, a bout with prostrate cancer in 2000-01, and quintuple bypass surgery five years ago, the San Francisco native is still hale and hearty.
Here's what Venturi had to say to reporters from Congressional, the site of the U.S. Open, which starts Thursday.
MODERATOR: Good morning. The 1964 U.S. Open here at Congressional is well-known for being one of the most notable U.S. Opens in championship history for many, many reasons. It's our true pleasure to have with us this morning the winner of the 1964 U.S. Open Ken Venturi. Ken, can you talk a little bit about that week and your memories of it and being back here this week.
KEN VENTURI: Well, that was 47 years ago and so much has been said about what I went through that day, and when I do speeches and stuff around the country and everything, they get carried away a little bit and it's hard to tell your speech. But this is a true story: After I won The Open and I thanked the man for introducing me, and I said thank you for that wonderful introduction, but my Open victory was best described by a man named Joey Lewis, an old comedian. I left here and went down into New York, and went into a restaurant called Toots Shor's and I ran into Joey Lewis, and he came over to me and always called me Venny, and he said, Venny, I saw you win The Open. He said, I saw you stagger, fall and pass out and couldn't make it off the green. I got to tell you, from the bottom of my heart, it's the greatest act I ever saw in my life (laughter). So everybody laughs a little bit and I can go on with my speech, but that was a true story.
But it was a day -- it was the last year that they played 36 holes and the temperature was like 104 and the humidity was high. And it was really something when I played with Ray Floyd, who was a 21-year-old young boy, young man, there. And it played then, it was the longest par-70 in the history of the Open. It played 7,050 yards. And today I guess, well, the lengths are longer, but they said the length they'll have this year will be the maximum will be like 7,350. But where they hit it today compared to where we used to hit it was 300 yards. If you think about it, what is hard to believe, they gave me the stats, in 1964 I was No. 1 in driving accuracy, and I was 16th in overall driving distance, and I drove it 249 yards. I was just watching players at the 10th hole, playing 218 yards and Bubba Watson just hit a 6-iron. In my day that was a good 4-wood for 218.
But it's nice to come back and the memories I have here and everything. To show you how fate has it, we didn't bring our own caddies then; we had a draw then. When I drew William Ward, who was the No. 1 caddie at Congressional, if there was some fate there that would have been it. So that told you something.
MODERATOR: We talked earlier, and you spent a little time on the golf course yesterday going through the 18th hole again. Can you talk a little bit about what that's like.
KEN VENTURI: Well, for the USGA, I walked the 18th hole and I showed where I drove the ball and how I hit it and what happened. I hit a 4-iron for my second shot. And I knew I was leading because I could see the scoreboard and I was the only one in red, so I knew I had at least a two-shot lead at that time. I played a knock-down 4-iron to hit it off the side of the hill, taking the lake out of play. And it's supposed to kick left. And it kicked right and went in the bunker. And that's where I showed them where we hit the bunker shot and what we did.
To think about it is that -- and then I made the putt and it was something that I'll always treasure it. It's just -- I don't know where the time has gone. 47 years ago winning The Open, I was with CBS, Frank Chirkinian hired me, I was with them 35 years. And I've been retired from television for nine. I don't know where it goes. But it's a great memory. And the thing about it is that I was forced out of the game. I wouldn't trade out of being anybody in my life. I choose to be me. The only thing I think about is I wonder what I could have done if I hadn't lost the use of my hands, because I was struck down at the peak of my career. But then doing the television and everything. I take a great line from Jack Whitaker at the Waldorf Astoria, when he talked about my career and what I did and what I could have done and what I do now, and he said fate has a way of bending a twig and fashioning a man to his better instincts. And I live by that line. And I wouldn't trade anything at all.
But to come back here and reminisce. I've been treated just royally. It's really been an honor. Not rudeness to anybody, but if I had to pick a place to win the U.S. Open Championship, it would be at Congressional in our nation's capital. It doesn't get any better than that.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We're very happy to have you here with us this week.
Q. To come back here you said was a tremendous thrill for you. Talk a little bit about then versus now, if you would for me, please, not just the golf course but the players themselves. When you competed you said you were the only one in red figures to begin with. What do you think it is going to take to win here, and talk a little bit about the field, if you would, then, versus now?
KEN VENTURI: Well, then, of course I was -- when I shot 278 I was only the second player in the history of the Open to break 280. Ben Hogan was first, I was second. And the rough, because it's playing par-71 now, and the 6th hole is a par-5, but they changed it to a par-4 in '64. So it was 7,050 at par-70. But today I marvel at it, at how far some of these young men can hit the ball and how far they go compared to what we did. Like Ben Hogan was long. And he was talking about, you know, hitting it 250. And today, you know, that may be a 5-iron for these guys, I don't know what it is.
But the talent, you know, there's so many of them out there now. But I've always said that they're younger now but there's no more draft. I lost, you know, some years, during the Korean War. And you take Hogan and all of them, they lost five years, World War II. And things have changed again with that, is that I missed three Ryder Cup teams because when I turned pro I had to wait five years before I could get points. And Jack Nicklaus was a U.S. Open champion and couldn't play on the Ryder Cup because he wasn't a pro five years. But that's all changed now. You turn pro today, you get points tomorrow.
But I take a great line of who's the greatest player, I'll take a great page from Ben Hogan, when I asked him who is the greatest player to ever live. A champion in his era would be a champion in any era he lived in. You can't compare today to the talent of Bobby Jones and hickory shafts and what he did and the conditions of the golf courses. It's all a different era, and I think golf is -- well, maybe bowling, but where unequals can be equal in play. Fast players can't play with slow players, but vice-versa. And quiet people can't play with talkative people. Hogan and I, when we played all the time, we had great conversations. He'd hit a great shot or I'd hit one, look over and give a wink and a nod. What else do you have to say?
Q. I read recently that you were very deeply moved when you saw the movie "The King's Speech." I wonder how that resonated with you as somebody who suffered from the same problem early in your life?
KEN VENTURI: Well, I saw "The King's Speech," I've seen it twice, and the reason that I started caddying when I was about nine, but when I was 13 years old teacher told my mother, I'm sorry, Mrs. Venturi, but your son will never be able to speak. He's an incurable stammerer. And my mother asked me what I planned to do. And the best I could I said I'm taking up the loneliest sport I know, and picked up a set of hickory shafts across the street from a man and went to Harding Park and played my first round of golf. I'm on the Stuttering Foundation now.
When I was practicing, it was always the U.S. Open. And I always dreamt and always thought that I would win the U.S. Open. But I never dreamt I'd be able to speak or do what I'm doing, and doing television for 35 years. And the things that they do, like when I was asked to do television my first thing was, no, I didn't want to embarrass myself. But when I put the headset on and what "The King's Speech" did and the things he did were things I did myself. And they couldn't figure out, the Stuttering Foundation, of how did you do it? I don't know, just things I picked up. And it was the rhythm of swinging the club and talking with it. And I work with children, I can get them to do pretty well. But as I said, never did I dream that as a young man I'd be doing television for 35 years.
Q. You recently donated a significant collection of memorabilia to Congressional. What made you decide to do that?
KEN VENTURI: Well, the one thing about it is I have something that -- I gave them the irons that I won The Open with. I gave them the original scorecards that they don't have, signed by the first two rounds, and then Ray Floyd. And the letters, of course, there, which I kept. But two lengthy letters, which are on display. But one was from President Eisenhower and the other one is from Bobby Jones. I've been offered a lot of money for certain things but it wouldn't have the same thing; what would it be if I sold those? And I thought that someday they've got to go somewhere. And I'm glad I have the choice to choose where it goes, and what better place than at Congressional. Because I've said, you know, I will accept all awards that you'd like to give me. And after I die, you can keep your awards, I don't want them anymore.
But I'm very honored, and coming back it brings back a lot of nostalgia. And the people that were here, all of them, my caddie, and Dr. Everett and all, have all passed away. And it brings back memories. Stories that I tell about The Open is not that I remember them but the stories that Dr. Everett told me when I was in the locker room. I had gone through a bad accident, I was a passenger in a car in Cleveland in '61 and was hit from the side here. If I had my seatbelt on, I wouldn't have had it, because I was thrown almost out the door of the driver's door.
But I went through a big slump. For five years I was favored or co-favored in every tournament I played, and then to go down. And I never gave excuses. My father always taught me that. Excuses are the crutches for the untalented. And I never made excuses at how I was playing. I was broken. I got an invite to Westchester, which is two weeks before The Open, by Bill Jennings, who owned the New York Rangers. If I hadn't gone there, I'd have gone back in the automobile business with Eddie Lowry selling cars.
And after the first round, Dr. Everett told me the story, I was laying on the -- next to my locker, and he says, I suggest that you don't go out. It could be fatal. And he said, I looked up at him and I said, well, it's better than the way I've been living. And I got off the floor and I do not remember walking to the first tee. And I don't remember anything about -- I remember the putt on 9. But I don't remember the front nine until I started coming into it. I got on the scale when I arrived at the course. I weighed 172 pounds, exactly what I weigh today. And when I got dressed and got ready to leave, I got on the scale and I weighed 164 pounds. I had lost eight pounds that day. But, again, it's great memories. I'm so honored and appreciative of what everybody has done for me.
Q. You've said that the U.S. Open was the one that you dreamed about when you were a kid. What is it about the U.S. Open that sets it apart from every other tournament that you've been in and been at?
KEN VENTURI: Well, they called The Open, like the British Open. There's another thing that I hadn't -- you had to file an entry for the British Open in May, but the way I was going, I wasn't going to go -- I never played until the end. I never played in it until I think '73 was my less exempt year. But I couldn't play in it because I hadn't filed an entry. And now starting the next year the British Open invites the United States Open champion as an invite, if he hadn't even filed an entry. And when you talk about the titles, you can have all the titles, the other ones have had 14 and stuff, but when you are the United States Open champion, that's the best. And that's what I always dreamt about. I never dreamt about the Masters or PGA or anything like that. If I had won the Masters as an amateur I wouldn't be a pro today. I would have stayed there and would have been the chairman, as Bobby Jones said. But then again there wouldn't have been a U.S. Open, probably, because I would have been a Masters champion or been there or the chairman of it. So fate does have a way of bending the twig.
Q. You talked about Dr. Everett. Do you ever wonder what would have happened if he wasn't with you that day and did you keep up with him after the '64 Open?
KEN VENTURI: I did. When I came back I saw him a while. Of course, you know, my caddie has passed away. And Dr. Everett, but we talked all the time. I don't know what would have happened. My caddie, William Ward, just -- I didn't know he had a -- he was the No. 1 caddie here. But he had that in the afternoon I hit the same club to the green 14 times. I didn't know, he told me that. But it was -- I said, you know, that I'd gone out in the morning in 30 on the front nine and then I missed two little putts at 17 and 18 to shoot 66. I was just shaken. I got in the car to go up the hill and things were just blanked out. Today I had 18 salt tablets. Today, you know what they said? That could kill you. Really. No one knew about it that I did it. But that's what it was. Coming from San Francisco, what did I know about the heat? There always used to be a line on Tour, many years ago, when Bolt and Venturi take their sweaters off, you know it's hot (laughter).
Q. You've played just about every great American course. I'm wondering just your thoughts on Congressional in general, the examination, the value of the golf course as a test of golf?
KEN VENTURI: Well, they've made some changes. I was out here last month and went by and showed where certain tees have been changed and holes have been changed and what is done. If they had the 6th hole back to a 4 par, and if they use the extreme back tees here, par runs away with it, there's no doubt about it. It would be -- I think so. But the one thing about it, the one thing that they changed in '97 when Ernie Els won, the 18th hole was a par-3. The players were upset with it because you couldn't have a victory walk at the 18th hole, going down the hill and up.
I think the 18th hole here is probably one of the premiere finishing holes in all of golf. And the gallery, you know, 25,000 there, and the applause was deafening, from the time I hit my tee shot. And then after I hit my second shot it was the first time I took my hat off to acknowledge the gallery. And there was no yelling, no screaming; the applause was deafening. And it went on until I hit the bunker shot and then I hit my putt at the 18th hole. And it was going to miss on the right and broke left a little bit and went in the hole, and that's when I dropped my putter and raised my hands up, which you see the picture so many times, and I said, "My God, I won The Open." It was just -- and the thing about it is that I -- I didn't reach over to pick the ball out of the hole. And Raymond Floyd, 21-year-old boy, picked the ball out of the hole for me. When he put it in my hands and I looked back, the young man was crying, and I lost it, then, too. I'll never forget it as long as I live.
Q. When you were walking around here yesterday, do you ever get the thought of how did I make it this whole way, in the heat and everything like that? Did you sort of muster whatever it was to get through that day and win?
KEN VENTURI: Well, I got through it, and I think about it and I still get chills when I think about it. But it was a line I gave Dr. Everett, I had nowhere to go. I -- better than the way I've been living. And then the thing about it is that I came back and my last tournament, the San Francisco Open I won was on the Harding Park where I played my first round of golf. And my father never told me I was any good, because he always made me go -- I say -- I won the city championship at the very youngest age, and I said, what about that, Dad? He said, you know how many cities there are in this country? I win at state, I win The Open, now you've got to prove it's not a fluke, the whole thing. And I kept out and kept going. I always wanted to please my father.
Dr. Everett told me to go back home and get my business in order. He said, you may lose these three fingers in your right hand because of gangrene. And I was looking for something to do. My whole world had turned upside down. My father took me to the airport, and I told him, I said, Dad, the doctor said I may lose these three fingers and I may never play golf again. My father gave me a hug, he said, Son, it makes no difference if you ever play golf again. I said, how could you say that, Dad? He says, because, Son, you were the best I ever saw. I told the doctor, do whatever you have to do; my father told me I was good. I'll never forget that.
Q. Just another follow-up about Congressional. I wonder about the last time you ever played here, if you had the opportunity since you won, I would imagine, maybe from CBS coverages you might have had a chance or something of that nature?
KEN VENTURI: The last time I played here was in June of 1964. When we did the Kemper and stuff I'd do some tips here then. I never played it again. Of course they don't play the same course. The 16th and 17th were from the other golf course. But I've walked it and I can reminisce with it. We did something last May and we went every hole and how it changed and what it does and everything. But, you know, I guess after you make a hole-in-one you shouldn't take a mulligan (laughter). That's all I can say on that one.
Q. No one in modern golf has it as tough as you going into the last round. They have a day to think about it. It seems to be very daunting for guys going into that last round with that lead. What makes it so hard in your opinion, and is there something about just keeping on playing? Was there something almost good about 36 holes on the last day?
KEN VENTURI: Well, I'll take a page on 36 holes. Ben Hogan won four U.S. Opens, and they said, how do you explain that? He said, you know, a great line, I remember it, well, he said, they can beat you in 18 holes, but you can grind them down in 36. And look at Ben Hogan, what he did, you know. Always when I was a kid when I was growing up, I had it in my wallet, I don't have it anymore, two quotes from Ben Hogan that I've always remembered. "There isn't enough daylight in any one day to practice all the shots you need to," and "every day you miss practicing will take you one day longer to be good." And I live by that, which I was taught by Nelson. Hogan took me under his wing. I spent so many years with Gene Sarazen, friends of Bobby Jones, Francis Ouimet. I've been the luckiest man in the world. I know they make a lot of money today. If you want to look, my first prize money here, compared to what they're making today, but I wouldn't trade my era for anything in the world. It was the greatest time of not only golf, but sports, friends and handshakes, what's what we lived by. And that was a great time. I wouldn't trade it.
Q. If I understand correctly, the last couple of holes of the final round Joe Dye from the USGA walked along with you. And I wonder if you have any recollections of any exchanges or conversations with Mr. Dye when you were coming in and what he may have said to you as you completed.
KEN VENTURI: They were talking about slow players. I don't recall how far behind I was or what it was. And I said, you know, I can't go any faster. He said, you're fine, just keep going. And Joe Dye and Hord Harding were my two officials. And when I got to the 18th hole, when I gave Ray Floyd his card, there wasn't a number on it. I don't know to this day what he even shot, I have no idea. And he gave me my card and I went over it and I saw the score. I kept going over it, and I couldn't sign it. I had one thing in mind, a girl that I knew from Hawaii, Jackie Pung, who won the U.S. Open and they wanted her to do the hula, and they made her sign the card and she put a 4 instead of a 5 and a 5 instead of a 4 and they disqualified her. And I had her in mind. And I couldn't put the pencil on the card.
And all of a sudden there was a hand on my shoulder and he said, sign it, Ken; it is correct. And I looked up, it was Joe Dye, and that's when I signed my card. So that was the thought. The only way I could lose it now, look at Roberto DiVincenzo at the Masters, what he did, the wrong card, and that's the only way I could go, I had finished. Then I was six shots back, started in the morning, and I won by four. And again, I will say thank you for all the compliments everybody gives. And I remember a phrase again from my father, I was at the dinner table one night telling him how good I was. I'm the best there is, Dad, the whole thing. And I ran out of accolades. And he said, are you through, Son? I said, yeah, Dad. He said, well, let me tell you something, Son, when you're as good as you are, you can tell everybody. When you're really good, Son, they'll tell you.
And I will always thank you for the compliments I received and each time that I think about -- which I am having lunches the next three days, with veterans of wars and disabled veterans, I take my hat off to them. Because without them there wouldn't be days like this or tournaments like this. And may God bless them. And I say this, may God bless America. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Mr. Venturi, thank you so much for visiting us today and chairing your memories. It was very special to all of us. We hope your enjoy your week here at Congressional. Thank you.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.